What have you been watching? Including Fargo, Agents of SHIELD, Silicon Valley and Friends With Better Lives

It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently that I haven’t already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I’ve missed them.

The usual “TMINE recommends” page features links to reviews of all the shows I’ve ever recommended, and there’s also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I’ve reviewed ever. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there’s Locate TV.

A little bit earlier than normal, thanks to the Easter bank holidays in the UK, but we’ll back to the usual Friday slot next week. New shows I’ve already reviewed this week:

But I also watched:

Fargo (US: Tuesdays, 10pm, FX; UK: Sundays, 9pm, Channel 4, starting Sunday)
Despite the name and the Coen Brothers’ presence in the producers’ roster, rather than a straight retelling of the movie, Fargo is an anthology series, each season telling a different ‘true’ crime story from the Minnesota region, the movie effectively being just one of those stories. Indeed, despite the setting and there being a William H Macy-esque schmuck of an accountant (Martin Freeman) and a bright but unlikely female sheriff (Allison Tolman) to investigate the heinous crimes of a newly arrived criminal (Billy Bob Thornton), the show has far more in common with the Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men, right down to Billy Bob’s dark angel with an eccentric haircut and some nice-guy sheriffs (Shawn Doyle, Colin Hanks) who get close, sometimes too close, to a force of evil beyond their experiences.

While not a patch on the movie, Fargo is nevertheless a decent piece of work, well written, well shot, with some eye-opening scenes, and largely well acted, particularly by Doyle but especially by Thornton, who’s almost as mesmerising as Javier Bardem was. But it’s largely interested in issues of masculinity, what it means to be a man and what happens if you fall short of those societal demands, so the female characters get short shrift from the story. Importantly, the relatively inexperienced Tolman has yet to make anything like the impact that Frances McDormand did in the movie, although she’s likely to shift in importance in later episodes (spoiler)given Doyle unfortunately gets killed towards the end of the first episode

Not truly compelling, but definitely a cut above the average and I’ll be sticking around to the next episode at least.

After the jump, the regulars, with reviews of Agents of SHIELD, Arrow, Community, Continuum, CrisisEndeavour, Friends with Better Lives, Game of Thrones, Hannibal and Silicon Valley.

Shows that I’ve been watching but not really recommending

Agents of SHIELD (US: ABC; UK: Channel 4)
Double wow. After last week’s decidedly improved, game-changing episode, Agents of SHIELD continues its exponential improvement in quality. Although most of the cast still can’t act, Ward has suddenly become an interesting character, dialogue intended to be funny is actually funny and it looks like there’s been a decent story arc lurking beneath the surface the whole time. One more week of this and I’ll have to move the show to the recommended list, and I didn’t think that was ever going to happen.
First episode review

Crisis (US: NBC; UK: Watch)
Designated Allies
This week, the heroes try to be more like Jack Bauer by breaking the rules. Unfortunately for them, they’re not very good so the rules break them. It’s become apparent now that both the two leads are too awful to really support the show, but everyone around them appears to be doing their best to hold it up instead, so maybe the show will be worth sticking with for a little bit longer at least. Plus someone needs to tell the writers about differences in drug dosages and recoverying from anaesthetic.
First episode review

Friends with Better Lives (US: CBS; UK: Comedy Central)
Episode 2 
CBS’s decision to hold off the second episode for a fortnight almost works, with an in-story suggestion that four months have passed since then. Unfortunately, in those four months, whatever small saving graces the show had in its pilot have evaporated, with the show descending into the basic CBS format of a bunch of ‘friends’ hanging around, jibing each other over their life choices et al. So little originality in the plot – character becomes ‘vegetarian’ (ie eats food no actual vegetarian would ever eat) for her boyfriend but misses meat, divorced guy has forgotten how to talk to women – you might as well watch YouTube mash-ups of other cancelled sitcoms instead. It’s a shame, because half the cast at least deserve better than this.
First episode review

Silicon Valley (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
Episode 2 
Not scripted by Mike Judge so nowhere near as funny as the first episode and really depended on the viewer having significant understanding of corporate finance for a lot of its humour. But the security guy’s spiel was spot on. 
First episode review

The recommended list

Last night’s The Americans is still in the viewing pile, I’m afraid. Otherwise…

Community (US: NBC; UK: Sony Entertainment Television)
Basic Story
Yet again, Dan Harmon takes us in surprising directions that undermine the usual laws of sitcoms. An episode that felt like it was leading up to a series ending but was largely about the characters, the nature of change and growing old, and the ending of all good thing. Abed just didn’t ring true, though. 

Continuum (Canada: Showcase; US: SyFy; UK: SyFy)
30 Minutes to Air
A bit flatter than previous weeks’ episodes, but although it was fun to see evil you-know-who in action, the schism between Keira and Alec felt like it was imposed to simply the plot, rather than because it would ring true. Plus Keira really should know that simply because you’ve been invisible once, if you turn off your super-suit, they’ll be able to see you again.

The Doctor Blake Mysteries (Australia: ABC1; UK: BBC1, Alias)
Invincible Summer
The season finale, but easily the best episode this year. The last-minute cast change was surprising, but the change in character dynamic it created was a good shaking up of the established order. The end moments were lovely but naturally they put off to next year a possible important plot development. Still, I’ll be sticking around for that now, which I wasn’t sure I would be.

Endeavour (UK: ITV; US: PBS)
A vast improvement on the previous two episodes, giving us one of those rare beasts: a Morse/Endeavour story that doesn’t depend on Morse’s academic learning but on proper police work and following clues. A story all about vanishing youth, loneliness, lost loves and times past – a mirror, of course, to the fate for Morse that we already know, despite his Endeavour youthfulness and passions – it was filled with excellent period touches, including references to Alfie, the future formation of the Thames Valley police and then-normal attitudes to homophobia and domestic violence. But the highlight, of course, was Fred Thursday’s back story. Thoroughly recommended.

Games of Thrones (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
The Lion and The Rose
If you managed to avoid spoilers for this one, well done. Scripted by George RR Martin himself, it was a leap forward in terms of action from the first episode, with all kinds of plot developments that are going to shape future seasons significantly. And we got to see Charles Dance and Diana Rigg in a scene together – hoorah! The first scene was a bit unnecessary, though, even though it did lead to a whole lot of Greyjoy fun.

Hannibal (NBC US/Sky Living UK)
At last, Hannibal’s cunning plan is finally shown and in retrospective, it all seems so obvious, so well done to the producers for hiding it. The episode did edge slightly over into silly in places and Alana issues with Will have resulted in the lone female regular just going from guy to guy, rather than having her own well developed plot, but wonderful individual moments, some of them especially haunting.

“What have you been watching?” is your chance to recommend to friends and fellow blog readers the TV and films that they might be missing or should avoid – and for me to do mini-reviews of everything I’ve watched. Since we live in the fabulous world of Internet catch-up services like the iPlayer and Hulu, why not tell your fellow readers what you’ve seen so they can see the good stuff they might have missed?


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.